A Love Song Review: Dale Dickey Grounds A Mesmerizing Tale Of Hushed Heartache [Sundance 2022]

We meet Faye (Dale Dickey) at the edge of the world, not literally but in all the ways that matter. She settles her camper by a lakeside, against a backdrop painted in broad, loving strokes. Her world is quiet but rarely still, so wondrously full of life that you may forget she's alone. The sweeping landscapes will hitch your breath, the streaming water may catch your eye, but it's Faye that will hold your attention as she settles into a mundane rhythm. 

This is how "A Love Song" starts: with quiet introspection, its finger on the pulse of the American West. Faye retrieves crawfish from her traps, cooks simple meals, admires the windswept landscape, and maintains her routine. The simplicity is mesmerizing — more so as the context comes into view. Faye is waiting for someone and so too are we.

As it lives beyond its Sundance premiere, "A Love Song" will no doubt earn comparisons to "Nomadland." They share an intentional sense of peace; neither is decorated with carefully crafted wide shots for natural beauty alone. Both films are elevated by the emotional depth breathing life into the visuals, but their journeys are entirely different. Where Frances McDormand's Fern thrived in solitude, Faye aches for companionship. "A Love Song" invites us into the grandiose world she inhabits and showcases the vast expanse outside her small settlement, but for all the natural beauty she so happily absorbs, Faye longs for something more. She awaits someone — someone worth smoothing out her shirt and fixing her hair for. She stares expectantly at approaching cars and gives into giddiness when someone knocks on her camper, but whatever she's awaiting takes its time to arrive. It isn't until she shares dinner with the couple on a neighboring campsite that we learn the truth: she has plans to meet her childhood sweetheart, Lito, an old flame she hasn't seen in decades.

A Love Song Comes Together In Harmony

When at last the two 60-something-year-olds are reunited, "A Love Song" has finally unfurled itself to reveal a wistful exploration of love, bittersweet to its core. A widow and widower enduring the weight of their loneliness and reaching for a connection, the film nudges them together so we can feel the paradoxical distance keeping them apart. Their grief is big enough to overtake the landscape, but they inch to close the gap as they reconnect, reminiscing about life's loneliness. 

Dale Dickey and Wes Studi are the epitome of emotional generosity, often succeeding where the script fails. There's nothing Dickey can't communicate with her face, embracing the extent of Faye's conflict as she reaches out to Lito. She juggles anguish and gentle hope. She's compelling all on her own, but there's no denying the intriguing injection of Studi's presence. Their chemistry is easy though purposely awkward as Lito and Faye struggle to get in synch. And backing each potent decision is cinematographer Alfonso Herrera Salcedo, with scenery both breathtaking and wistful, never demanding your attention but often commandeering it. 

The beauty of "A Love Song" is a crucial saving grace: ultimately, the film is best in its silent and unspoken moments, dialogue unable to contain the weight of its world. It's overly-restrained, not granting Dickey and Studi nearly enough time to share the screen and relying on them to hold the film together where its construction can't. A film that revels in subtleties the script struggles to match, choosing sparsity instead and leaving much to be desired. But to writer-director Max Walker-Silverman's credit, "A Love Song" still overcomes. His direction offers its share of quiet surprises, smoothly alternating between naturalistic and ever-so whimsical. At times it's slightly surreal, barely off-kilter, like a toned-down echo of a Wes Anderson movie ever so carefully reigned in. 

The film's greatest power is when all its strengths come together, with Dickey offering mesmerizing moments of tentative pain and the camera always ready to punctuate her hushed heartbreak. This stripped-down tale of two people searching for solace is exactly the kind of micro-budget, character-driven piece you expect to find at a film festival. It becomes a vehicle for two veteran actors to showcase their best, and an opportunity for a newcomer to shine. 

"A Love Song" is rough around the edges, but between its gorgeously crafted world and Dickey's ability to ground the film with a single expression, the flaws fade away when the finer elements sing together in harmony.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10